John Kerry Vietnam War Movie, 'Crash' Title Battle: Toronto Controversies

John Kerry Vietnam War movieJohn Kerry Vietnam War movie 'Going Upriver.'

John Kerry Vietnam War movie, 'Crash': Toronto Film Festival controversies

Besides Charlize Theron's no-show and Kevin Spacey's “show” sporting a dyed scalp, the 2004 edition of the Toronto Film Festival, which runs until Sept. 18, has had its share of controversies thanks to a trio of entries: the John Kerry Vietnam War movie Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry; writer-director Paul Haggis' Los Angeles-set, all-star ethnic-clash drama Crash; and Zev Asher's animal torture documentary Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat.

'Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry': Iraq War parallel

Directed by George Butler, Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry revolves around U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's seemingly never-ending Vietnam War years. Butler told the Associated Press: “I truly believed the moment I saw him: This guy's going to be president. Nothing in the intervening years has changed my view. He had real bearing, he had a presence. It was beyond his years even then.”

Perhaps hoping for the sort of controversy that has catapulted Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 to the top of the box office charts, Butler added, “In 1965, a thousand people had died in Vietnam. In 2004, as of last week, a thousand people had died in Iraq. … Overwhelmingly, this film's metaphorical purpose is to remind people what they might be getting into in Iraq. The errors of it and the parallels just seem very striking.”

Not surprisingly, some are expecting a backlash against Going Upriver once it opens commercially south of the border.

Now, it's unclear whether the Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry controversy will erupt because Butler is comparing Iraq to Vietnam, or because – in that particular quote – the director failed to include as “people” the 10,000+ Iraqis who have died since the beginning of the American-led invasion.

Paul Haggis' 'Crash' vs. David Cronenberg's 'Crash'

As for the controversy surrounding Paul Haggis' generally well-received Crash, that's a direct result of the fact that the ensemble drama shares the same title – but not the same plot – as the 1996 David Cronenberg movie about car crashes, mutilations, and kinky sex. According to the Toronto Star, those behind Cronenberg's work are now threatening to take legal action against the producers of the new Crash.

Besides Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, and Brendan Fraser, Crash also features Jennifer Esposito, Terrence Howard, Thandie Newton, Michael Peña, Loretta Devine, Tony Danza, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, William Fichtner, and Shaun Toub.

By the way, Crash director and co-screenwriter Paul Haggis also wrote Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, starring Eastwood, Hilary Swank, and Morgan Freeman, and which opens later this year. Haggis' Crash screenplay collaborator was Bobby Moresco.

For the record, based on J.G. Ballard's novel, writer-director David Cronenberg's 1996 Crash stars James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, and Peter MacNeill.

Crash Holly Hunter'Crash' with Holly Hunter.

Animal torture at the Toronto Film Festival

Also at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival, Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat has drawn protests against – and lots of free publicity for – a documentary about three Canadian men who, as reported on CNN, in May 2001 videotaped their hanging a stray cat from a noose, and then proceeding to “slit its throat, before beating, disemboweling and skinning” the cat, posthumously named Kensington by animal-rights activists.

Director Zev Asher's documentary doesn't show the brutal 17-minute cat-slaughtering video, which was supposed to have been “an artistic experiment” intended to highlight society's hypocrisy in regard to the killing of animals for human consumption. The three animal torturers / murderers – Jesse Power, Anthony Wennekers, and Matt Kaczorowski – were later sentenced to jail time. It's unclear how long they actually served.

Rumors that the three men's next artistic experiment will be a short video protesting capital punishment in which each of them will execute himself by hanging, electrocution, and lethal gas are absolutely – and, some might add, unfortunately – untrue.

In reply to accusations that Zev Asher's documentary glorifies the killers, Toronto Film Festival co-director Noah Cowan defended the film's screening, stating: “People who have viewed the film – and that includes several Toronto journalists and our curators – indicate that it certainly does not allow room to sympathize with the actions of the convicted criminals portrayed in the documentary and shows them to be morally bankrupt.”

In the New York Times, reviewer Dana Stevens writes that animal torturer Jesse Power comes across as “a more complex figure [than his two fellow cat killers], an intelligent and well-spoken but possibly psychopathic art student,” adding that even though Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat “clearly takes the position that the animal's death was a crime, Mr. Asher's film is likely to leave viewers eager to discuss the limits of artistic freedom and the extension of human rights to animals.”


Note: A previous version of this article erroneously implied that Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat had been made by the actual cat killers.

Image from the John Kerry Vietnam War movie Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry: George Butler / ThinkFilm Inc.

Holly Hunter Crash 1996 image: The Movie Network / Telefilm Canada, via Ballroom Marfa.

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